One of the Films of a Lifetime


It’s a long list, from — just in a moment’s memory – “Stagecoach,” to “On the Waterfront,” “The English Patient,” and “Nomadland,” but what we’ve just seen, Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” I’ll rank as one of the best films of this lifetime, in part because it tracks the generations I’ve lived in, from childhood memories of a British bomb shelter to that moment on what was my 5th birthday we dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to the ominous threats of a Putin and other autocrats who now possess bombs of even more immense power

Nolan leaves us with a visceral sense of that day’s meaning, the reality than human beings, so flawed as we are, now possess weaponry that can destroy us all. “Oppenheimer” is no Marvel epic of comic book creatures, but a deep study not only of the journey at Los Alamos and Hanford that ultimately unleashed such horrific potential, but also of the moral questions, the back-stabbing politics, the lust for political power that throws decency/honor/respect for the democratic values we always preach into the nearest garbage can.

Yes, we see on screen, in almost silence, the desert moment of Trinity, the test of an atomic bomb, of nuclear power, that still hovers over our past and now. But we also track the debates, the rivalries that soon unravel reputations – not only of Oppenheimer but also of friends and enemies – and the doubts about unleashing, of possessing, such terrifying force. The NYT’s Manohla Dargis, as only she can, says it right — “One of the film’s pleasures is experiencing by proxy the kinetic excitement of intellectual discourse.”

Don’t miss it — “Oppenheimer” is film and history sounding a warning bell that rings with ominous power.

Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. Hi Mike, thanks for your review of the movie, Oppenheimer. I grew up in Los Alamos in the late 40s, 50s and 60s. Just saw the movie, and it was a very emotional experience taking me back to my childhood. All my friends’ dads plus mine worked at the lab. It was so secret and our dad’s left for work in the mornings with their badges and we had no idea what they did. Lucky for us we had great educations. For me personally my science education prepared me for my many years as a bone marrow transplant nurse at Fred Hutch. I still visit often even though my parents are gone.

  2. Joanne — I didn’t know your own history, but there’s a memoir in there somewhere!
    I was still a small child across an ocean but a similar story, especially knowing Hanford, has always been with me.


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